"You got one pimped out page K Rudd", says 'Woody' in a comment posted on Kevin Rudd's myspace website. Continuing the trend started by the American Democrats' policy launch on YouTube this year, the Australian election has shaped up into a digital affair. And as one of the teenagers targeted by these campaigns, I'm embarrassed.
Lindsay McDougall, aka 'The Doctor', from radio station Triple J sums it up best from a youth perspective. "Seeing John Howard on YouTube is like having your dad add you as a friend on myspace", he says. "It just feels wrong."
Rudd and Howard are both guilty of dumbing-down political debate in the way they are using the internet. Pithy YouTube statements and glittering websites divert debate and benefit no one but the media who lap it up because it is entertaining. But if entertainment comes at the cost of real discussion, then we could be in trouble.
I don't object to the increased use of the internet in political campaigns. It was inevitable - although I'm sure it irritates those people who see the internet as entertainment, or as a great escape from the barrage of politics provided by other media forms.
Ultimately, though, I'm sure we can all see the immense opportunities for exposure provided by the internet. I don't believe anyone would expect our politicians not to exploit this resource. But if we look a little more closely at some of the techniques being used, we will all feel that familiar twinge of cringe coming on.
Howard uploaded his first video announcement on YouTube early in September. He has since barraged the site with many more, presenting his policies in short clips on issues such as climate change and Aboriginal rights, all the way to terrorism and the Tasmanian hospital system. His second announcement outlined a plan for an army gap-year program for school leavers, clearly identifying the target audience for the use of this technology as young adults.
Perhaps it is a sign of the absurdity of Howard's youth mobilisation campaign that a search on "Prime Minister John Howard" returns more parodies on the announcements than the announcements themselves. Various forms of animations, cartoons, puppet shows and many overdubbed versions of the speeches pop up.
Internet users are clearly not taking Howard's campaign seriously.
While the Prime Minister's addresses to the masses on YouTube never stood a chance of roping in youths, Kevin Rudd has had more success with his internet campaign. Rudd has used popular social networking websites myspace and Facebook to great effect, gaining thousands of "friends" who voice their support for him by posting comments.
Rudd's bright T-shirts have become cult collectables to uber-cool fashionistas and the favourite items of clothing for K-Rudd's 'fans'. Thousands have signed up to receive 'Kmail' and have downloaded the computer and mobile phone logo wallpapers. Since then Rudd has received rock-star-like receptions in schools across Australia.
Australian youths have fallen for Kevin Rudd, the product. A comment left by 'Zac' on the myspace page exemplifies Rudd's success: "dude, u r a bloody champion, if i was old enough i would dead set vote for u!" These words reveal the biggest problem for Rudd, as well. The people responding to Rudd's campaign cannot actually help decide the outcome of the election.
Another casualty in this media mobilisation war is public debate.
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